In the age of anxieties, our list of fears is expanding. Our neural worry engine is always on. It is always in search of the next target. Are all our worries worth worrying? Should we believe in what we read? Of course, some amount of worry is needed. Overwhelming worries are dangerous. Fear of the unknown is most worrisome. COVID anxiety is increasing day by day. We can’t run away from this anxiety. When we don’t know what to do, we feel more vulnerable. Unplanned situations bother us more. It is time to prepare ourselves to deal with unplanned situations.
Worry is a state of anxiety coupled with uncertainty about present or anticipated problems. The experience of worry can vary; from mild, to deeply troubling, to near insanity. The level of worry experiences vary from person to person. In some people, worry engine starts at the smallest pretext, while in some, it needs a lot of warming to start it. History says that those who worried too little died, and those who worried too much also did not survive. It means, we require a certain amount of worry to function effectively. The point is what is that ‘optimal level of worry’ to live optimally?
The ‘worry gap’ — the gap between imagined and actual threats – often misdirects us towards wrong targets. Our worry gaps are widening. We are becoming more worried about our imagined threats. It is, however, possible to lessen our worry gaps. “Since the brain has limited energy, we should probably view worry as a resource to be conserved and efficiently allocated”, thinks cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman. Worry has served us well throughout our evolutionary history. It gives us direction and helps us to prepare and update our ‘to do’ list. Too much worry diminishes the significance of worries. Too much worry puts us in an agitated state of despair, anxiety and paranoia; too little worry makes us less motivated and directionless. A modest level of worry is usually the best. How should we optimally package our worries? Mary Catherine Bateson says, people empathise more easily with polar bears and whales than with honey bees and bats. They care more about natural disasters in countries they have visited. She says, the social psychology of fear and anxiety is different from the individual psychology of fear and anxiety, and this distinction needs to be understood more clearly.
Is there a relationship between intelligence quotient (IQ) and worry? Studies have indicated that excessive worry exists, both in higher intelligence and lower intelligence people, and less in people of moderate intelligence. Studies have also indicated that excessive worrying may have co-evolved with intelligence. In a study, patients with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) were compared with healthy volunteers to assess the relationship between IQ and worry. The study found association of high IQ with a lower degree of worry in a control group of normal volunteers. In GAD, patient’s high IQ was found to be associated with a greater degree of worry. The science behind worries is quite intriguing. Perhaps, we want worry to remain as mystery.